“Generation Hope,” Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, calls the HSC Class of 2020. Listen to them speak about their year, and you’ll see why this name fits so well.
Despite one of the most important years of their lives being completely upended – these students, who completed the HSC this year, are grateful.
“No matter what life throws at us, we know we have the strength to overcome it,” says Nora-Lee Doueihi, College Captain from Cerdon College, Merrylands.
“We’ve learned to cherish every moment,” says Lara Chamoun, Liturgy Prefect from Maronite College of the Holy Family, Parramatta.
“The sense of community we have felt has been our rock,” says Max Tromp, Charism Leader from Patrician Brothers College, Blacktown.
Instead of the whirlwind of leadership activities that Year 12 students usually engage in, for much of this year, they found themselves at home.
There were no big school events, no excursions, no Masses, no ‘end-of’ ceremonies. These are usually the times when Year 12 students test their leadership skills, mentor younger students and get a glimpse of what they are capable of as young adults.
Catholic Outlook spoke to a group of students who had been awarded the Bishop’s Award for Excellence for 2020, just before their HSC exams commenced. The Bishop’s Award is given to a Year 12 student at each Catholic secondary school in the Diocese of Parramatta who displays their faith in action.
Setting out on the Year 12 journey begins in Term Four the year prior. Like all other Year 12 groups before them, this group were excited and had lots to look forward to.
“As part of the leadership team, we created formation sessions to teach themes such as respect to different year groups,” says Max. “I was a big driver of this, and it felt a big letdown when the sessions needed to be cancelled.”
Gabriella Nimmo, Liturgy Leader at Our Lady of Mercy College, Parramatta was looking forward to playing a leadership role in the annual Mercy Day which had to be cancelled.
“The students at Parramatta Marist High, Westmead missed out on celebrating the Marist Bicentenary,” says Ryan Santa Maria, Solidarity Captain.
A disappointed Tram Nguyen of Catherine McAuley, Westmead explains “I was due to go to a Space Design Competition in America.”
Not only did they miss out on many events, but the need to stay home and study independently presented enormous challenges.
Christian Cipri, College Leader of St John Paul II Catholic College Schofields admits online learning was difficult. “I much preferred talking to my teachers,” he says.
Gabriella juggled Zoom classes with caring for two younger sisters and her bedridden grandmother. “That was a challenge for me, especially having to explain to my teachers why I was late for some Zoom classes. But as time went on, I got better at managing this, by getting up earlier and following up with emails,” she says.
Several students used the phrase “the unknowing” to describe the feelings they experienced. “It was that sense of isolation, the unknowing what was going to happen or when I could connect with people again,” says Max.
Despite the challenges, the group gained a new understanding of their teachers and how much effort they put into supporting their students. “They were always asking us how else they could present the materials for us,” says Tram.
All students felt a huge sense of gratitude, and for many of them, it motivated them to work harder.
“At our school, each student has a teacher to pray for them,” says Christian. “That really motivated me.”
Ryan witnessed first-hand the effort made by his school’s Religious Education Coordinator to “pull everything together” he says, and Nora-Lee realised the important role that a teacher plays in a young person’s life. “It’s inspired me to become a teacher,” she says.
Appreciating ‘the little things’
“We all learned to appreciate the little things,” says Nora-Lee. “It stemmed from not being able to attend big things like our last sports carnival or school Mass. It made us look at and appreciate the smaller things. That’s what got us through.”
Many of the students reported being surprised at how they got to know others in their form they would not have normally spoken to.
“Suddenly friendship groups were merging over Zoom,” says Max. “I saw people’s strengths I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Drawing on their faith
Each student realised they needed their faith more than ever, but often this meant getting creative.
“We developed rosary groups every Wednesday for students to come together and reflect,” says Ryan. “It helped bring some order to the chaos many students were experiencing.”
As Charism leader and a musician, Max aimed to keep people together through music. “I performed hymns we had sung throughout our schooling which brought a sense of brotherhood.” Max also participated in Catholic Youth Parramatta’s Worship Wednesdays.
Gabriella experienced gratitude and connection through Catholic Youth Parramatta. “We spoke with the homeless on how they were coping, which made me feel grateful for all the things I have.”
Nora-Lee felt “Faith was everywhere. It didn’t matter where I was.”
Lara couldn’t participate in live Masses but drew on internal strength. “Even though everything was changing, my faith was my constant,” said Lara. “It couldn’t be taken away from me.”
Learnings for life
When asked what they would say to themselves if they had the chance to go back before the pandemic, the answers revealed how quickly this group had learned many life lessons.
“Cherish every moment. Be in the moment.”
“Expect the unexpected”
“Don’t focus on the negatives”
“Take the challenges and make them opportunities”
“Tell your friends and family you love them”
“Don’t be too harsh on yourself”
“Focus on the things you have”
“Always know that God is with you” And
“Do more exercise because you’re going to be sitting in your bedroom for a long time!”
Undoubtedly, our society will look back on ‘the pandemic year,’ and theorise on the longer-term impacts on various groups. There will be the ‘pandemic babies’ cocooned by their families, the graduates looking for their first job in the economic downturn, and the older members of society who had no choice but to stay inside for an extended time.
Looking back at the ‘pandemic Year 12 Class of 2020,’ we may find a courageous cohort who continue to shine and test the learnings for a successful life – to adapt, to accept support, to show compassion to others, to face up to challenges, to be grateful and to rejoice in their faith.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.